One of the biggest issues within the trucking industry Is that many carriers, especially smaller, independent companies, ignore or manipulate the hours-of-service regulations that the federal government has mandated to mitigate the problem of driver fatigue.
Hours-of-service refers to the number of consecutive hours that a commercial truck driver can operate a vehicle without taking a break.
It has been a political hot potato for several years, pitting safety regulators against truck industry lobbyists who are well funded and use money to sway members of Congress.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires that the driver of any commercial vehicle that meets certain conditions, adhere to the hours-of-service regulations that limits the number of hours a driver can operate a vehicle.
In order to try and cut down on driver fatigue, the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations states that truck drivers are not allowed to work more than 60 hours in 7 consecutive days or 70 hours in 8 consecutive days.
But the trucking industry, led by the American Truckers Association (ATA), the most powerful member organization of trucking companies, successfully lobbied Congress to table the proposal, citing a likely increase in traffic congestion that would also likely lead to more – not less – accidents.
The FMCSA promised to revisit the issue at a later time, but the ATA has vowed that it would force the agency to conduct years of study about the effectiveness of any new proposal that would amend the existing hours-of-service regulations.
Truck drivers may only drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty, and must have at least one 30-minute break if they are driving 8 consecutive hours or more.
These regulations apply to the drivers of commercial vehicles that:
- Weigh more than 10,001 pounds
- Are designed to transport 16 or more passengers not for compensation
- Are designed to transport 9 or more passengers for compensation
- Are transporting hazardous materials in a quantity requiring placards
“Hours-of-service rules aren’t arbitrary,” Witherite added. “They were established based on studies that determined the level of focus and attention that is lost after a certain number of hours spent driving. But when the FMCSA tried to amend these regulations, and lower the maximum hours commercial drivers could spend operating their vehicles in a week, the trucking lobby flexed their muscles and forced the FMCSA to suspend that amendment. They claimed that the new proposal would generate an increase in traffic, but the truth is that many of the larger carriers knew that they would lose money if the government curbed the number of hours their drivers could spend on the road.”
And what makes commercial truck driver fatigue such a danger to other motorists is the fact that tired drivers often fail to obey the rules of the road, speed in an unsafe manner, improperly brake or decelerate, fail to account for blind spots, and exhibit careless or reckless driving.
With the addition of driver fatigue, these are six of the 10 most common causes of commercial truck accidents that were previously listed.
That’s a scary thing to ponder, the fact that driver fatigue can have so many unintended, but often fatal consequences when a truck accident occurs.
Even more troubling is what Witherite points out about the costs of these accidents beyond just the accident site.
“You’re talking about injured employees, inventory loss or damage, production delays in shipping because a truck is out of operation,” Witherite stated. “There’s also an increase in liability and insurance costs for all drivers because of massive payouts, and a lowering of public confidence in these major truck carriers.”